The Return (Part Two)

(Part One)

Sheila, Sheila. You shall be mine again. The gray and white streaked wolf thought as the moon rose above the snow covered branches of the forest. Welcoming the silver guardian, a chorus of howls echoed from the glen to the north, his former home. Lars ground his teeth as he recognized the bass tone of the black wolf, the stranger who had wrested his life from him and stolen his throne. There was nothing more the lupine thirsted for than the taste of Baltho’s blood.

You were chief once, not long ago. Lars blinked as a mist gathered above the frozen stream in front of him. “What sorcery is this,” he growled.

Not sorcery, but fate, warrior. You shall rise again, you need only to fight and take what is yours through tooth and claw. No other way shall give you that which you seek beyond all else, that which you truly yearn for.

“Sheila,” Lars breathed. Look into the stream, the mist replied as it receded into the barren trunks. The wolf obeyed, finding his face staring back at him from the smooth surface.

“I don’t understand,” he said, looking about, but the mist had vanished. The Sky Hunters have decreed that your face shall be known once more beyond disgrace and shame, that you shall be known throughout the land.

“Yes, I shall be known again,” the wolf said, feeling the fire grow within him. But how? There had been friends and officers, loyal to him, who had refused to swear allegiance to the usurper and his turncoat supporters. Baltho had not been secure enough in his power to have them killed, but he had driven them out, forced them to scatter to the winds. If I can find Kalten and the others, then I can challenge his throne and root the bastard out!

Fueled by his revived ambition, Lars felt the call of fate beckoning him to the trail of glory. But before he departed, he turned towards the glen, howling his farewell to the Frozen Forest with glee and ire, “Sleep while you still can, Baltho! I’m coming for what is mine!”

Miles away, the call echoed, its words jumbled by the wind and stone walls as it entered the cave of the pack leader. The black wolf raised his neck straight at the distant howl, his hackles raising at the familiar voice. “Impossible,” he spat. “You’re dead, driven out and killed by Winter’s fury.”

Beside him, the brown wolf stirred, her warm back pressed against his side. “Hmm,” she mumbled sleepily. “What is it, my love?”

“Nothing, nothing at all,” he whispered gently into her ear. “Go back to sleep.”

She obeyed his command, head sinking to the floor. Her eyelids drooped, her breathing slowed once more, but still Baltho waited until he was certain. Standing slowly, he crept out of the den, his massive form managing to exit silently. The master of deceit and betrayal leaped down the gravel slope in a single bound, entering the clearing beside which the rock wall rose, the mountain slopes stretching far above to the clouds.

Baltho shook his head as he crossed the flat plain, avoiding the mounds in the snow as steam drifted from the holes where his wolves’ snouts jutted through as they slumbered. Stepping over a fallen trunk, the black wolf approached the sitting figure at the edge of the clearing. Felk sat atop a tree trunk, scanning the wall of trunks that marked the border of the forest as he shook snow from his pelt.

The crunch of snow roused the sentry from his half-doze, the skittish wolf nearly calling out an alarm before he recognized his leader. A sharp stamp of the front left paw marked his salute as he looked at Baltho sheepishly.

“Morning-er, uh, night, Chief,” he stammered. “Imagine we’ll be gatherin’ for the hunt soon, eh?”

Baltho ground his teeth. Idiot. Young, naive fool! He fought back the venom in his mouth, instead snapping. “Never mind that!” Felk’s tail shrunk back between his legs instantly as he lowered his head. There was nothing more feared in the pack than their chief’s bad temper and the threat of violence it brought.

A stirring from the clearing behind him made Baltho whip his head back, scanning for eavesdroppers. He moved closer, his massive fangs all that Felk’s eyes could focus on. “You know of the Split Peak, yes?”

“’Course, Chief, every novice has to survive there for three moons to prove themselves a Hunter-”

“Good,” Baltho cut him off. “Then you shall journey there and find the Seeker. Tell him the Black Wolf has a job for him. ‘Find the one called Lars and see that he never walks this land again.’ Remember that wording. Do you have it, young wolf?”

“Yes, Chief, but- but Lars-”

“Go now, you fool,” Baltho growled, his jaws gnashing. “If you fail me, then your blood shall dye this ground red for the next moon!”

“Yes, Chief,” Felk saluted, shaking at the gravity of his mission. He dashed off into the trees as fast as his lanky legs could go, heading north as the moon rose. Baltho shook his head as he walked back towards the cave, trying to fight the dread that filled him. You tore out his heart, stole his throne, and banished any wolves foolish enough to follow him. You are a master of wolves and combat, he is a fool and loner, and soon, he shall be dead.

And so, two wolves set out upon the woodland paths,
Blazed by the ancient wolves for the past,
One heading north towards the dark peaks forged by the Hell Hounds,
The other blazing east towards the shores of the Black Sound.

Felk sprinted on, never allowing his burning muscles to stop,
His master’s threat made his blood chill at the thought,
Two times, the sun rose,
Two times, the sun fell,
Until the massive mountain loomed before him, the wolf morose,
All the late-night ghost tales, he remembered well.

The wind howled through the withered pines,
Announcing the intruder’s presence,
Up he climbed the on the shadowed slopes, watching for any sign,
Of the forgotten wolf spirits, dead and restless.

The snapping of a twig shocked him with a jolt,
Felk spun around, fangs bared, to find only the shadows,
“Twas only a branch,” sighed the wolf,
But then he saw the twin orbs, he saw the red glow.

An eagle rode the thermals above the snow-covered land,
Flicking his head, he watched the sun sink behind the mountains,
The ice-capped ocean showed between the white-streaked rises,
Before him, the northern hook of the range, black and jagged, darkened.

Not wishing to be beyond the nest on the night of the full moon,
The eagle winged over, diving towards the forest far below.
To the south, a cloud was forming as the swarm grew,
Servants to the Dark Master, the acolytes approached; the crow.

They came from all directions at once,
Beaks stabbing into the overwhelmed eagle,
He struck out blindly, felling several with beak and talons,
But still more came, cawing in bloodthirsty zeal.

Pain too great, fear too thick,
The noble eagle fell to their attack,
His bloodied body crumpled as it hit,
His vision descending into the black.

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